Somewhere in Mattapan, a group of teens is making reusable bags out of t-shirts. As they apply fabric paint, the old shirts become bright blue like the ocean on a clear day. On every bag they write, “A Sustainable Earth Begins with Me.” They head to a nearby urban adult community center and hand out the bags to every person there. Now, they’re tracking how often the bags are used.
“They got into the amount of detritus, or marine debris, there is in the oceans,” “e” inc. Founder and Executive Director Dr. Ricky Stern told MSNE. “A very serious issue. They wanted to do something about it.”
“Doing something about it” is at the heart of “e” inc., a nonprofit that strives to teach thousands of children, teens and adults how to protect the planet and live sustainably — by actually going into schools and hosting events where they give them real-life examples of how to have a positive effect on the climate. Like shutting off lights when you leave the room, or powering down your laptop when you’re not doing work. We had the opportunity to learn more about “e” inc. straight from Dr. Stern herself:
What is your role at “e” inc. and can you explain its mission in your own words?
My role is Founder and Executive Director. I started the organization in ’02 in the basement of my apartment in Jamaica Plain. “e” inc was created for two reasons. To help kids understand the environment. And then to help them understand what they can do about it. They themselves take on tasks and become personally responsible.
We feel, not only that children aren’t getting enough of a chance to be in the natural world, but that the natural world needs their protection.
How did “e” inc. come to be?
There was a guy at Harvard who I went to see through my doctoral studies, and we got into this discussion. He’s a climate guy, really a botanist. He had just given a talk about climate data. And we got to talking about how there’s nothing, nothing, nothing this is unrelated to — when it comes to the climate. It’s all a circle of interrelated things. If you’re teaching about the climate, you’re really teaching deforestation. Over population. Capitalism. It’s all interwoven.
He was telling me story about how McDonald’s was cutting down the forests in South America for cows. Then the high school kids got all incensed and picketed McDonald’s.
That just struck me—that you could inspire kids in such a way. That they really care about the issue–and I could turn around and make a nonprofit to get them to understand the science behind it!
Then there’s the other piece: how do you unleash activists? And really have them make a difference? That was the goal.
So how do you unleash activists? How do you make it not just talk, but action when it comes to changing the environment?
The underlying piece of all of our projects is hands on science wedded to action. If you see a great science project with no action, it’s not us. Teaching action means teaching how YOU can make a difference in the world.
We’re an outreach site. We go to other people’s sites. We work with kids after school, then we go to public schools, and that is very much about sustainability. We have a teen team in Mattapan, this is our 5th 6th year – that’s based on a leadership model and involves community service and teaching science. Then we have summer projects: two field projects. One by Fort Point Channel and one in Roxbury’s Allandale Woods. Kids go out in different groups and go out and learn in these different areas. Now we have 3500 square feet in the Charlestown Navy Yard and are hoping to make it a learning center.
Can you give an example of a hands-on lesson you teach at schools?
All of our curriculum has very strong active programs. Every kid in the building gets six lessons, all about energy.
- What is energy? We use Rube Goldberg devices to show them how each thing pushes another—to show energy having an effect and the transfer of energy. Then we’ll show them what energy actually is: the sun and the effect of the sun as the source of energy that we use.
- What is a fossil fuel? We get a cup and fill it with different sweets that stand for the process of creating a fossil fuel, gummy bears as leaves and such, then the kids get to eat it after they can recount the layers. Then they do remember!
- What is global warming? We teach them about carbon dioxide, CO2. We make a green house with them so they see how it works. What things give off CO2? How does it get captured?
- Electricity – We have them make a congo line to show how electricity is created and generated. They all move in a row that shows the system of electricity generation that moves from water to your home. The phone rings. They’re moving as the electricity is being used. We ask them, “Is the computer on? Is she doing work? Is this wasted energy?” YES IT IS.
- Renewables – We tech them how solar, water and wind can be sources of renewable energy.
Then we teach them practical things they can do, like unplugging at night and re-plugging in the morning. And always turning off the lights when you leave the room. We explain how if every classroom does this in the building, they will see a lowered energy use in building. The conservation of energy will be noticeable. My staff goes back to the schools for three hours every week, and goes door to door to check in on how it’s going. It becomes a contest that the kids win by working together to conserve energy.
We award an Urban Green Prize for schools that make a consistent, documented effort. It’s a banner they hang up that says, “This year we saved electricity,” or “This year we saved electricity and water,” or “This year we had zero waste.”
How can other people contribute to e inc.’s efforts?
The best thing people can do for us: help us raise money and awareness. You can sign up to volunteer: to help us administratively or be an extra pair of hands at a site. People are more than welcome to let us know through our online contact sheet if you want to work with kids or help us in any way!
Also come to our events!
Join “e” inc. for Weekends in March: Science Saturdays for Kids every Saturday morning at their Navy Yard Site in Charlestown! Info:
Tags: AP Computer Science, Charlestown Navy Yard, climate, climate change, Dr. Ricky Stern, environment, Fort Point Channel, microsoft, Microsoft New England, nonprofit, Roxbury, STEM, sustainability, “e” inc.